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NCAA approves free year of eligibility for fall athletes. How could that affect Arizona?

arizona-wildcats-usc-trojans-uniform-colors-combination-helmet-pac12-football-2020-coronavirus Photo by Jacob Snow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The NCAA Division I Board of Directors approved Friday a recommendation that all fall-sports athletes, no matter how much they compete this season, will be given a free year of eligibility.

This comes amid plenty of uncertainty about competition this season due to concerns over the coronavirus crisis.

The Pac-12, along with many other conferences, has already postponed fall sports to the spring, though there is no guarantee that they will be able to compete safely by then or if they will have any semblance of a normal season.

This decision impacts the Arizona football, soccer, volleyball and cross country teams.

Set to add 20+ freshmen next fall, Arizona football’s roster will now likely exceed over 100 scholarship players in 2021.

Arizona soccer could return star seniors like Jada Talley and Jill Aguilera, who led the Wildcats in scoring last season. Talley’s pursuit of Arizona’s all-time scoring record also would receive a huge boost if she returns, as she’s 15 goals short.

Arizona volleyball’s star outside hitter, Paige Whipple, is also a senior.

Volleyball and soccer both experienced a ton of roster turnover this offseason and could benefit immensely from another year together. It wouldn’t hurt for Arizona football either. It’s a young team with a whole new defensive staff.

Such legislation doesn’t come without complications, though. College sports programs are cash poor right now, with Arizona estimating a $60-65 million revenue loss if there is no football season in the spring. Can it really afford to increase its scholarship limits across all fall sports? It cost Arizona roughly $600,000 to bring its spring senior athletes back for another season, but none of those sports have scholarship totals anywhere near football.

Increased roster sizes create other issues, too. As we saw with Arizona softball, which returned all seven of its seniors, several underclassmen transferred out of the program in search of more playing time.

Recruits from all sports will have to consider how a free year of eligibility for current athletes impacts them, both financially and on the field.

Imagine being an incoming quarterback and learning that the sophomore starter will still be a sophomore when you arrive. Would you consider going elsewhere so you can see the field sooner?

Or what if you are a soccer recruit that has been promised a full scholarship and are told that, because the seniors are returning, there is no longer room for you at that price. (Soccer, unlike volleyball and football, is not a head count sport.)

“Yeah, we’d have to have a plan, but if the seniors don’t count against your scholarship number, then that makes it a lot easier to maneuver,” said UA soccer coach Tony Amato. “And then the rest you would just have to navigate and figure out based on the given year and how much money you have available, who’s coming back, who’s not. But as you’ve seen, if things play out, it usually works out, you can find a way to do it. So I’m not losing sleep over that part of it. Now, two years from now, would I be? I mean, maybe, but I try not to worry about things that could happen two years down the road, and I would have a plan and I’d be able to prepare for it and navigate through it and have a real honest communication with future players and classes, and really be able to have it all mapped out by then.”